Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial ‘reinterpretation’ of the Japanese constitution could see Japan assert itself as an international military presence for the first time in the seven decades since it’s surrender ended World War II. At least, that is, in the aid of allies; revisions notwithstanding, Article 9 still renounces the state’s sovereign right to belligerency.
I thought over the conditions of this once unthinkable situation with my attention deep in the graphic patterned fabric of a WWII era child’s kimono. I could study it for hours; it’s an express line through the looking glass. Especially perverse for being an infant’s, the design represents a kinder-clarion call, all flags, warplanes and a cartoonish soldier boy silhouette in profile, tiny legs propelling him wide eyed into battle.
This kimono is one of a few singular, arresting, indigestible chunks of history that Portuguese artist Carlos Noronha Feio has included in his exhibition ‘discursive foundations of sunsight’ at narrative projects. Others include a vase decorated with wartime propaganda and a rusted cannonball. These are installed alongside custom-made pieces which include painting, drawing, a short animation played on a tablet and a sound installation.
The paintings are small scale, ‘capital A’ abstractions that token the medium in perpetual endgame. In context they could refer to any number of pre, inter, or post war modernisms – so long as war is the anchor. In some sense, the assuredness, or tenuousness of their continuity with the relics around them addresses curatorial rather than artistic production unless, of course, the distinction moot.
More striking on its own terms is a hanging parabolic speaker nearby that emits a brittle trilling noise like digital birdsong. Even on closer listening it’s not immediately obvious, but this is the sound of a succession of national anthems accelerated, if not entirely beyond recognition, then at least to indistinction. The result is as funny and terrifying as a futurist Eurovision.
It’s a curious thing to read the artist discussing ‘connections and dialogues between objects,’ when I am most struck not by the manner in which they converse but the manner in which they are withdrawn. Conjuring the eerie somnambulism of a silent disco, they may be together and dancing but not necessarily dancing together. Granted, a conscious decision has been made not to play the sound work on headphones and it’s audible from a distance of a few feet but the use of a parabola localises an optimum listening space – directly beneath – big enough for one listener at a time.
It’s at this point, though, that I’m reminded of the exhibition title referring to Buckminster Fuller’s proposal to use the terms ‘sunsight’ and ‘sunclipse’ as a corrective to the vestigial, pre-Copernican ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’, which reaffirm a bogus geocentric worldview. Not only does this corroborate the exhibition’s claim to an oblique perspective on nationalism, which initially seemed present but not intrinsic, it also pinpoints that intangible property at once unifying and dividing the constituent parts – they have gravity: that thing which, along with binocular and binaural perception, centres our world, except, of course that it doesn’t.